January 12, 2024

Citi Japan CEO Luet takes lead on environment

Frenchman puts higher values into daily practice across the bank

Warren Meehan
Contributing writer

Despite having lived and worked in over 10 countries, new Citi Japan CEO Marc Luet had never set foot in Japan before his transfer in 2023, not even as a tourist.

“I already had an image about Japan,” the French executive said of his initial impressions. “There was the traditional Japan, the funky Japan, the sophisticated Japan. However, I was also expecting to find Tokyo somewhat constricting, but actually the day-to-day living here is quite easy. There is such a village feel — every area is like a mini-village of some sort. Of all the developed markets, Japan is where the things in everyday life are just different. You can’t put your finger on it, but your emotional experience of it is that it is just different.”

Luet had always been attracted to an international career after experiencing a number of short homestays in the U.S. as a teenager, and felt that finance would provide that kind of global opportunity. He earned a bachelor’s degree in economics in France, and following a short stint at a foreign bank in Paris returned to the U.S. to complete a master’s degree in business at Dartmouth College. “I joined Citi as a summer intern, and I never looked back. Citi being such a global firm was part of the attractiveness of the company, especially from a development standpoint and a career standpoint — I was extremely lucky that Citi offered that.”

Global conduit, local talent

Luet sees his main role now as being the “face” of Citi in Japan, delivering on its promise to be a preeminent, sustainable banking partner for global corporations and investors. “This includes … the values that we are trying to embody as well as being accountable to our other stakeholders, such as the policymakers, the regulators, and being a trusted partner vis-a-vis the risk and controls,” he said. “We provide a conduit to Citi’s global platform for business.”

It is important for Luet that those values are observed in the workplace. “We know that in a market like Japan, the talent market is competitive, and unless you are a really attractive employer, people have choices. So you want to make sure that the culture that you cultivate and what you offer, such as the employee value proposition, is strong,” he said. “We are quite lucky — we have a low level of talent attrition, and we have been trying to better ourselves every year, and I think we have been successful so far.”

“I welcome things with a sense of curiosity, and I tend to be excited by the future,” said Luet. | Haruo Motohashi

All in on environment

Citi was one of the first major U.S. banks to deliver a banking climate disclosure and one of the first to endorse the Principles for Responsible Banking under the United Nations Environment Programme Finance Initiative, a framework that now represents over half of the world’s banking industry. It also took the initiative to launch its own $500 million Citi Impact Fund, providing capital to U.S.-based startups applying innovative solutions to social challenges. Citi has also committed to net-zero emissions of greenhouse gases by 2050, including Scope 3 and net-zero for its own operations by 2030. This is on top of a $1 trillion commitment to sustainable finance by 2030, of which $348.5 billion had already been financed and facilitated as of the end of 2022.

“We’ve made great progress on setting our 2050 goal of net-zero, on specific goals by industry,” he said. “We are trying to be granular and specific in what we do, and ensure whatever vision or path we follow is supported by actual things that people can measure and can hold us accountable to, and it feels good to be a senior executive at Citi and being a part of that effort.”

Green transformation leader

Citi is the only foreign bank participating in the GX League (“GX” means “green transformation”), a 2022 Japanese government initiative to bring together companies, government, academic institutions and universities in order to synergize their efforts to meet Japan’s goal of carbon neutrality by 2050. Citi is also the only U.S. firm selected so far to be a supporter for transition bonds. “We’ve decided to engage fully with the GX League and support GX bonds,” he said. “It’s a testament to our commitment to Japan. Frankly, GX is perfectly aligned with what we are trying to do as a firm.”

Luet expects that the GX League will develop a framework and a market for products that will help guide and facilitate different companies’ transition plans. “The real question is, then, what reason is there for us not to be part of the GX League?” he said. Luet readily conceded that it will take more than just Citi to really make things happen, but believes that when it comes to sustainability goals, Japan and Citi are perfectly aligned.

Drawing on his own energy

So far, Luet feels he has been very fortunate in his career and tries to appreciate every day as much as he can: “Never in a million years would I have imagined that I would be in Japan today managing a U.S. bank — it was an unlikely outcome.” He draws energy from being confronted by new situations and considers himself lucky to have worked with so many people who have observed the world in a different way, and believes that if you are a keen observer of what is happening around you, you will learn all the time. “These unlikely things you will experience in life, these events, they contribute to this sense of adaptability and change,” he said, “and that’s how your career evolves, because you pick up so much along the way. This is what shapes you.”

Luet often spends time after work in online meetings due to time differences. He likes to spend time with family, as well as train for triathlons, a discipline he took up 2½ years ago while staying in Sydney, and recently joined a triathlon club in Tokyo. He says training with friends keeps him motivated. His next big challenge outside of improving his triathlon time is to reorganize Citi, fully appreciate Japan and, of course, “welcome new things in life with a sense of curiosity.”

Haruo Motohashi

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